QUICKIE: Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978)

Halloween is undeniably great, particularly considering its genre and the fun sub-genre it helped spawn. With my second viewing (and first in over 5 years), however, it turned out as more of a good film when I was hoping for a great one. It's got a considerably amount going for it, and still holds the crown for being the only slasher that's ever actually scared me, but I found that you really can't ask much from it in the way of a story.

If Michael wasn't such a pop culture icon, I doubt Halloween would be quite as satisfying in retrospect seeing as the two most important characters, Loomis and Myers, have the least amount of development. Loomis' scant story is vague and where he hints that the antagonist has intentions beyond simply acting out of pure evil, the alleged intentions are never fleshed out to allow us to understand why he's so intent on killing Laurie and her friends (remember it isn't until part 2 that we learn of his connection to Laurie). All that and a bit of repetition (albeit unnerving repetition) aside, though, it's a solid flick. Great atmosphere thanks mostly in part to the killer music that is notorious for a reason, possibly the most believable (despite being unkillable) villain a slasher film has churned out and a few good laughs work together to make Halloween a true must-see for any film buff.


QUICKIE: House of 1,000 Corpses (Rob Zombie, 2003)

I already loved House of 1,000 Corpses but with my relatively new found love of horror a rewatch amplified that love in a big way. In a sense, it is to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre what people say Kill Bill is to Lady Snowblood (I have yet to see Snowblood to verify this myself). In being an homage primarily to Massacre, it also exists as a twisted love letter to vintage horror in general. Zombie's raw vision is deliciously disturbed and the frequently intercut low-quality clips are beautifully unsettling.

Will it scare you? Not much. Will it make your skin crawl? Ohhh, yes. It's the type of film that mainstream audiences will watch and react to privately but go on later to bash it, popularly denying the thrills they experienced. Sure, it's not quite as good as Chain Saw Massacre, but it's close and if anything, seeing it makes the undeniably awesome sequel, The Devil's Rejects, that much more satisfying.


QUICKIE: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (Tobe Hooper: 1974)

As far as gore in America goes, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a masterpiece. It's also one of the best slashers I've ever seen, which should come as no surprise since Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses, which I love, seems to have been inspired almost entirely by it. It's an intense descent into insanity that manages terror and hilarity through the same means. I can't remember the last time I experienced so many purposefully cringe-inducing moments in a movie, and that's not to mention the effective suspense techniques that put the film a rung above most in its class.

Surely the combination of ruthless kills and the intensity that leads up to them is what gives Massacre its staying power in cinematic history. If anything it is vastly superior to Nispel's 2003 remake and only makes more apparent why that more recent version didn't work. I can only imagine what a theatrical experience would have been like.


REVIEW: Away We Go (Sam Mendes, 2009)

I could relate to Away We Go so much it's crazy. For the better part of the film I felt like Sam Mendes had done an interpretation of my life over the past year (especially during Maggie Gyllenhaal's scenes).

Similar to Mendes' recent Revolutionary Road, it takes a few scenes of stilted dialog to get going (the dinner with Catherine O'Hara and Jeff Daniels felt like the first table read) but quickly becomes Revolutionary Road's antithesis - a low-key yet uproarious situational comedy of sorts (until its more sentimental and mellow - but far from contrived - second half). Jim Gaffigan is particularly notable for his deadpan performance that had me in stitches.

One might compare aspects of Away We Go to the likes of Jim Jarmusch's Broken Flowers. I might also if it weren't for my feeling like I was watching a more entertaining version of my life.

It is not a perfect film and it is not made for everyone, but boy is it ever made for me. Hopefully Maya Rudolph will gain notoriety for her performance, which is just as good if not better than her brief (and also impregnated) turn in the Prairie Home Companion film. John Krasinski plays, as one might expect, a differently motivated version of Jim from The Office, but it's a role he does so well and, as a male, I found him to be a great grounding point for the film even during its crazier moments. I'm sure his character's counterpart is the same for female audience members.

Overall, Away We Go is a sweet, honest and often hilarious slice of a couple's journey to find home and it's the first film since The Weather Man to leave me so pleasantly trapped in its aura well beyond it's ending. It's a great addition to a great day, and is easily Mendes' best film since Road to Perdition.


REVIEW: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Steven Spielberg, 2008)

So I just caught Pirates of the Caribbean: The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. At least it felt like that, just with a bumbling Harrison Ford in place of a wisecracking Johnny Depp. Before I get too far I should note that I am not a huge fan of Kingdom's predecessors. I don't hate them but I've never had the urge to revisit them so there may have been some classic Jones-isms that I missed out on, thereby decreasing my enjoyment of the screen candy of this recent installment.

The film can basically be summed up into these three acts: One - CGI prairie dogs watch as a painfully stilted Ford makes multiple excuses for being old, Two - Spielberg creates a CGI amusement park ride that is desperate to be worth the admission price (I hate to sound like I'm defending Pirates of the Caribbean but at least it was based on a ride) and Three - The most ridiculous CGI and the most predictable and contrived plot points battle for Razzie awards. Oh, and throughout we have Shia LaBeouf, who can't pronounce the film's title (Crystal Skoal, anyone?) so much as act (not that the piss-poor writing was helping him), pulling his best Scrappy Doo impression. Incidentally... what was the point of giving him the silly name "Mutt" if they only use it once, that being when they introduce him?

Anyway... there are a few positives. For one, the film does have a spark of adventurous spirit thanks to the fire that Ford (rarely) gets in his eyes upon making a discovery. There are also a few decent laughs (the entire quicksand sequence was actually very successfully funny) but these often don't find their footing as they are spattered haphazardly throughout action sequences that make even less sense for having included jokes.

Sure, Kingdom is not supposed to be taken completely seriously. It's a live-action comic book. There's a certain extent it reaches pretty early on, however, where gloriously killing its darlings only to bring them back unscathed not seconds later turns into a series of "you have got to be kidding me" moments. If you haven't seen the movie, all the moments you've heard made fun of are just as silly as they sound. Now, ultimately I take no issue with films whose only purpose is to captivate popcorn munchers... I just don't subscribe to them unless they have at least a little more going for them... and that's where Kingdom really fails. It teases at a very compelling story but focuses more on the flimsy Russian threat... and I use the term "threat" very loosely. The key villain isn't even developed enough to make her payoff anything more than an "oh, they did that better in the other Jones movies" moment.

So overall, it's worth the watch if you're a die-hard or if you're desperate for some of the most over-the-top action this side of Transformers, but it's got "Modern George Lucas" written all over it though honestly, I'm not sure if it had much going for it before his involvement trashed any potential. If I had to describe my feelings toward it in one sentence I would say, "What the hell did I just watch!?"


REVIEW: Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (Patrick Tatopoulos, 2009)

Rise of the Lycans, the most sophisticated of the Underworld films so far, is still a good time on repeat viewings. The action does peak during the first half but the romantic (and occasionally harlequin) story keeps it chugging at a good clip. Character development may be thrown to the wayside a bit but for people familiar with the predecessors this shouldn't be an issue. Similar to those predecessors, the effects flip between practical effects and CGI though not as elegantly.

For what can be assumed to be sales purposes the film is marketed with the idea that Rhona Mitra is the focus. Not only would the marketing have been more original if the truth of Michael Sheen as the main character was at the forefront but Sheen's Lucian also makes for a fantastic hero. Sheen can carry many different types of characters - I was bummed to see him underused in Frost/Nixon but I greatly look forward to his (hopefully Oscar-buzzing) reprise of his Tony Blair role from The Queen in the upcoming film about the British Prime Minister.

Overall Rise of the Lycans, while including a few stumbles (particularly in the handling of that two-on-many sword fight in the citadel) benefits from having nearly everyone involved in the first two return to contribute and fits perfectly in the mythos while successfully paying tribute to its pre-established fans. I'd rank it as my second favorite Underworld so far. I still like Evolution much more but it's easily better than the original which, for me, struggled to find its footing and even inspired a strong disliking from me before I saw the sequel.

I might also mention that Bill Nighy's third outing as Viktor in Rise quite probably firms him up as the best on-screen vampire since Gary Oldman in Coppola's Dracula, in my opinion (in a classic sense, thereby excluding the excellent likes of Dorff's Frost and Goss' Nomak in Blade and Blade II, respectively).


QUICKIE: On The Doll (Thomas Mignone, 2007)

It would be too complimentary to call On The Doll a mess. Up until the third act the story is barely there and the ultimately useless relationships between the characters are vague. The film begins with the end but the audience is left confused as can be until the scene plays again because the only character in the portion of the bit they show makes his only appearance in that scene! That character, by the way, is the only somewhat respectable character in the film and that's simply because we don't know a thing about him.

Now, I've got no problem with unlikable characters or entire casts of them for that matter... but every single other character in On The Doll was so downright despicable that I couldn't wait for them to stop contaminating my life or at least so they could stop dropping completely unnecessary F-bombs every other word. What the film lacks in substance is far from made up for by the useless frenetic camera and an uninspired, pseudo-industrial score (and calling it a score is an overstatement).

On The Doll tries to make a misanthropic statement regarding the underbelly of society but only succeeds with its in-your-face symbolism. Aside from that, it merely rubs dirt in the audience's face and demands, "Isn't this nasty!? Isn't it!?" Again, I have no problem with films that contain negative subject matter. Pervasive sex, excessive language or whatever is deemed fit to tell a story and deliver a message... it's all fine with me... but On The Doll fails in most every aspect. I imagine it only exists to shock teenagers into saying, "Woah, I don't want to be a prostitute" or at the very least, "Woah, that guy is really taking a pounding to his nuts."


QUICKIE: A Nightmare on Elm Street: Freddy's Dead (Rachel Talalay, 1991)

The first half of Freddy's Dead may just be the most fun you'll have watching a Nightmare on Elm Street movie. Whereas the first installment is easily the best cinematically, this one does the best job of throwing all that to the wind and simply having a good time, complete with one of the more hackneyed (therefore, in this case, awesome) uses of 3D this reviewer has happily come across. The effects aren't as good as in the comfusing music video that is Dream Child and the characters aren't as well developed as in Freddy's Revenge or Dream Warriors but the pieces work together as a whole for the sake of sheer entertainment better than with any of the other sequels.

Sure, this sixth film does introduce possibly the most cliched and predictable plot twist a slasher series in its autumn years can put forth but hey, what are ya gonna do? Every Freddy flick contradicts the last with some new facet of his existence revealed for the sake of continuing the franchise.

The cameos in this one make for some extra fun and while Kreuger leans further toward the comedian role with each installment, he takes the cake here and brings the laughs big time. If you dig Talalay's irreverent style that appreciates the so-cheesy-it's-goodness of 80's slashers, you'll likely dig this. It's unfortunate the follow up (Wes Craven's swan song for Freddy, New Nightmare) fails to meet its potential and proves to be the only Nightmare film completely devoid of value.


QUICKIE: Aliens (James Cameron, 1986)

The second installment in the Alien series may well be the very definition of "wild entertainment". Sure, it started as sort of big-budget version of your typical 80's fare but it very soon became an absolute blast - a 'ride through hell' as Cameron put it in the introduction. The extended cut flew right by with awe-inspiring suspense, action, laughs and a touching relationship between Ripley and her new found friend Newt, who was great... and I often hate little kids in movies. There's not a single dull moment to be found as soon as the action begins. I was riveted in the pure escapism and blown away by how absolutely incredible the effects (and how Cameron filmed them) were.

At one point during the climax I actually felt tears of joy welling up due to how modern cinemas never see this kind of quality anymore. Cameron's Aliens is one to look to when wondering how to come into a franchise and improve upon nearly every one of its aspects.


REVIEW: The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

I finally saw last year's alleged holy grail. I don't think Nolan's usual tricks (that he used SO well in The Prestige) worked very well. There were only an itty bitty handful of moments that had me intrigued (that truck flip I'd heard so much about WAS pretty darn cool but the rest of the action was... well, I'll just say that I don't think Nolan has any clue how to direct a hand-to-hand combat scene).

I was not surprised to learn that David S. Goyer had a hand in the writing because a lot of it reminded me of how Blade: Trinity unfolded. Very different films, obviously... but the treatment of Batman in this one reminded me a lot of the treatment of Blade in Trinity. I won't go into detail on the much discussed bat-voice.

So what did I like about it? Dent. Eckhart was great in the role and the handling of his character throughout was well done. His makeup/CGI worked seamlessly, although I'm not sure why he didn't have a speech impediment.

The whole final act was really weak for me, though... it didn't make the boring, why-the-hell-are-people-comparing-this-to-the-Godfather opening act worth it... and the sonar vision was just plain stupid. Oh, and they gave the two-bit extras actors center stage for the ferry boat thing. They were awful throughout and then they were given their own big-budget soap opera to "act" out.

I was holding out hope for a decent final scene but that Oldman monologue was pretty much the opposite of what I felt the rest of the film was going for. They're turning Batman into Blandman by making him realistic but they had the film end on an incredibly cheesy, melodramatic note that ties all the themes (which seemed less like themes and more like afterthoughts) together like an episode of Grey's Anatomy with the lackluster score playing us out. This whole superhero deconstruction might work better if it didn't demand to be taken more seriously than a cancer-ridden Holocaust survivor with AIDS.

I realize I haven't mentioned the Joker. Well, I don't blame Ledger for the fact that he made no impact on me. The film should have either been about Dent or Joker... not both. I cared so little about the Joker storyline that... that... well, that I can't think of anything to compare it to because I'll so quickly forget it tomorrow when I become more intrigued with the bubbles that form near the drain of my tub while I shower.


QUICKIE: Frost/Nixon (Ron Howard, 2008)

I wouldn't go as far as to call Frost/Nixon boring... but it my, was it ever bland. While the third act was, in a word, good, the only reason I'd say this film is worth seeing is for Langella's performance as Nixon. The few worthy moments the film had were thanks to him.

The reason I rented it (along with the hope that I might learn a little something, which didn't happen) was Michael Sheen but considering his character's name is in the title and particularly considering his character is arguably the protagonist and the reason anything in the story happens he is severely underutilized. Frost is horribly underdeveloped and I'm not sure how much blame can be placed on Sheen, who has only shown me great things in the past (The Queen, anyone?), because the script doesn't seem to have given him much to work with. Too much is given to the idea that things are happening around him without any focus on the fact that he's really the catalyst.

Also, I'm not sure to what benefit the talking head segments were. The actors did a decent job with them, Bacon being a standout, but they simply seemed to be there to add some semblance of a 'style' to the proceedings.

I'd say skip it... unless maybe you were around for Watergate and a retread of the aftermath would be interesting to you.


QUICKIE: Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977)

Suspiria, the first (and long overdue) Argento I've taken in, is a sandwich made with delicious bread and zesty condiments but lackluster meat. The opening slice didn't hesitate to plaster me to the wall and bat me around, claws bared, and I was ready for the astounding barrage of beautiful terror to continue. The meat of the film, while fast-paced, didn't move things along very well though, to the point where Argento only begins to hint at some semblance of storyline around the halfway mark. What we do have is thoroughly flavored with a keen use of light, shadow, color and pattern that is reminiscent of German expressionism and the score provides an aural banquet that can't be argued with.

As I've heard many times about the notorious director's work, however, it is style over substance. Argento seems to understand the aesthetics of horror very well, but since he doesn't provide us with any comprehension of the unfolding events, we are left with what is, at its best moments, a really great-looking music video. Without knowing at least a little bit about what's going on, it is difficult to invest in anything beyond what is presented on the surface. Once we do become clued in, the events, to an extent, mirror the third act of Rosemary's Baby. Thankfully, the closing slice is a great payoff for the patient, as it is equal to if not better than the opening.

Overall it's well worth the watch though while exemplifying some of the tastiest aesthetics the horror world has to offer, writers won't be taking cues from it any time soon.